Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
|Featuring:||James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, Charles Dance, Benedict Cumberbatch|
|Producer:||Sam Mendes, Steven Shareshian, Nathalie Marciano|
Take the cast of “The Breakfast Club” put them in “Quiz Show” and fly them to England and essentially you have “Starter for Ten.” Directed by Tom Vaugn, this film is a genuinely uplifting and uncharacteristically intelligent film that genre hops with much agility between elements of a coming of age romantic comedy, fish out of water love story, and underdog sports feel-good movie due to the solid performances of its cast.
The story revolves around intellectual protégé’ Brian Jackson (played by James McAvoy “The Last King of Scotland”) who is in his first year of college at prestigious Bristol University. He tries out and gets a spot on an academic quiz team that is training to compete on the BBC series “University Challenge”—the title for the film comes from a catch phrase of the show. While in school, he also ends up in a relationship with one of his teammates, Alice (Alice Eve) and in a friendship with anti-war protester Rebecca (Rebecca Hall).
These relationships become the context of the romantic elements of this film and overall, are handled quite well. Though there are the occasional clichéd moments of romantic entanglements between Brian and his two love interests, comparatively, these elements are done in refreshing ways and are rather believable. (Side note: yes, both actresses bear the same names as their characters, Vaugn has pointed out that this is mere coincidence as both actresses were the best people for their parts, judging from the performances they may have been named specifically to inhabit these roles.)
The film also delves into the theme of letting go of one’s past, as Brian is continually struggling between finding his true identity at Bristol and being dragged back to his working-class roots by his best friend and part-time criminal Spencer (Dominic Cooper). He is also trying to escape the baggage of his widowed mother and her ice-cream truck driver boyfriend.
Under the guide of a novice or less qualified director, all these diverse elements might get lost or become muddled. However, Vaugn does a great job in assembling these pieces and constructing a film that is a refreshing and charming piece of cinema. Add to it a soundtrack (featuring The Cure, The Smiths, and Tears for Fears, among others) that is the English equivalent to an 80’s John Hughes film, and you have a film that will have all post-punk, 80’s nostalgic fans tapping their feet while delighting in the chemistry of this pleasant romantic-comedy.
The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements associated with a university campus (i.e., sexual discussions and mild drug references). There is a scene of two of the characters getting high, as well as a scene where Alice’s parents walk around “suggestively” naked (though they are strategically covered by table tops and kitchen counters preventing any actual nudity). There is the typical kissing and groping associated with teenage movies (a particular scene in question is no more racy than the brief kissing scene between Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club”). The film contains little if any profanity, most of the profane language is of the English variety and generally considered un-offensive to us on this side of the pond. My one critique is not with the film itself but with this PG-13 rating. In comparison to other films that receive this rating and demonstrate far greater use of profanity, sexual and crude dialogue and often comic violence, this film is much milder and in comparison is a soft PG-13 or perhaps PG.
The film is 96 minutes and based upon the novel by David Nicholls, who also wrote the screenplay.
Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None
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